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Spezza excited to reunite with former Stars teammates

Now playing for Toronto, the veteran center looks back fondly on his time in Dallas with 'lots of good memories'

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (28-17-4) vs. Maple Leafs (26-17-7)

6:30 p.m., American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

 

DALLAS -- Jason Spezza had a good run with the Stars. The talented center played 379 games and tallied 228 points (81 goals, 147 assists) in Victory Green before leaving last summer as a free agent and signing a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs.

This will be his first trip back, and the Stars are expected to honor him with a tribute video.

"I didn't really think about it much, but it doesn't hurt to see yourself scoring a few goals when you're playing a game," Spezza said. "I really enjoyed it here in Dallas. I liked it, my family liked it, and the ownership was great. Jim Nill is one of the people I respect probably the most in hockey just for the way he does business and how honest he is. He's just a great person. Coming back here is more about that I'm just happy to see people."

Spezza gained a lot of respect from his teammates, who said they will enjoy playing against him.

"He's just a good guy overall," said Stars captain Jamie Benn, who had dinner with Spezza on Tuesday. "He cares about every single player in that dressing room, he's a good family guy, he's just a good person overall."

Tyler Seguin said he learned a lot about playing the center position from Spezza.

Video: TOR@DAL: Benn previews Stars' meeting with Leafs

"One hundred percent he was a mentor," Seguin said. "He was a guy who always knew what to say, and a guy that I definitely leaned on. Any time I wanted to talk hockey, he was the first guy I went to."

Spezza was acquired in a trade with Ottawa in 2014 and then signed a four-year extension with Dallas, playing five seasons total. He was a part of the Stars' Central Division championship in 2016 and also helped the team to Game 7 of the second round against St. Louis last season.

"It's hard to pick one moment," Spezza said when asked to reflect on his time with the Stars. "Playoffs are obviously the best, like beating Minnesota and beating Nashville last year. Winning playoff rounds bonds you more than anything. We had a year where we led the Western Conference in wins and we were scoring lots of goals. That was a really fun year to play. Seeing [Benn] win the scoring race was pretty cool. We were out of the playoff run at the end and it gave us something to motivate us. To see him win that was something special, especially being a buddy.

"Just lots of good memories and I enjoyed it here."

Spezza has found a nice place on the Maple Leafs and has 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 38 games. He has been averaging 10:46 per game in time on ice and has 44 shots on goal. That said, a lot of the night will be dedicated more to what he experienced in his five years in Dallas. He said just seeing equipment guys Steve Sumner and Dennis Soetaert will be fun.

"I really grew close with the trainers here. I spent hours with Sudsy and Denny," said Spezza. "It's nice to see faces that you spent a lot of time with. You realize when you come back that you miss it and you miss the people."

 

What to watch

This will be another challenge for a Stars team that prides itself on great defense.

Dallas took a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay (the fourth best scoring team in the NHL) on Monday and will get to see the third best scoring team Wednesday. Toronto averages 3.60 goals per game and ranks fourth in shots on goal at 33.6.

"They can score," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. "I love the creativity. They're great on the rush, and you can see they're making a very concerted effort to play a more structured game. They're a great hockey club over there."

Bowness said the Stars will try to duplicate what they did against Tampa Bay, where they had a 35-25 advantage in shots on goal, a 67-55 edge in shot attempts and a wide margin in getting more scoring chances.

"We played a very disciplined, solid game against Tampa," Bowness said. "We took the approach that we'll get our offense from defense, and we'll probably have to take the same approach with Toronto. We have a lot of respect for the speed and skill over there and we better be really sharp defensively."

Video: TOR@DAL: Bowness says Stars 'tough to play against'

 
Dowling to enter lineup for injured Hintz

Roope Hintz suffered an upper-body injury Monday and will miss tonight's game. His absence will likely mean more minutes for center Jason Dickinson, who played 21:07 and had six shots on goal Monday.

Justin Dowling will come into the lineup for Hintz.

Andrew Cogliano suffered a lower-body injury Monday, but he practiced Wednesday morning and is listed as a game-time decision. If he can't play, the Stars will go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards, but the guess is he will be ready to go.

If Tuesday's lines were any indication, Dickinson could move up to center Denis Gurianov and Joe Pavelski, while Dowling would center Mattias Janmark and Corey Perry on the fourth line.

Ben Bishop is expected in net. He is 7-7-0 in his career against the Maple Leafs with a 3.02 GAA and .895 save percentage.

Video: TOR@DAL: Oleksiak on Stars' solid defensive game

 

By the numbers
32

In 28 career games against Toronto, Tyler Seguin has 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists). Seguin had a goal and five assists in two games against the Leafs last season.

 

10

Toronto winger Mitch Marner has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in six career games against the Stars.

 

13:53

That was the time on ice for Stephen Johns Monday against Tampa Bay - his second game back after missing a year and a half with post-traumatic headaches. Johns played 18:29 in his first game back. The guess is the coaching staff will limit his minutes as he works himself back into game shape

 

He said it

"We spent a lot of time working on draws and he's gotten really good at them. That's actually a sense of pride for me because we work so much on it. He's one of the best right-handed draw guys in the League now. They're a good face-off team and that's something we've focused on a lot. It's something that you take a little bit of pride in. There are backstories when you play against guys, but I don't take as many draws as I used to. I'm not sure how many shifts I'm going to have against [Seguin]."

-- Spezza on potentially facing Seguin, who has won 59.0 percent of his faceoffs this season.

 

Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov

Denis Gurianov - Jason Dickinson - Joe Pavelski

Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Corey Perry

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Roman Polak - Miro Heiskanen

Jamie Oleksiak - Stephen Johns

Ben Bishop

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: D Andrej Sekera, D Taylor Fedun

Injured: C Roope Hintz (upper body), C Martin Hanzal (back)

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at American Airlines Center tonight at 6:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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